Grand memories

photo from GMA News

Traffic was bad up North during the weekend and I was sad to learn that what was being gobbled up by flames was the Gotesco Grand Central mall in Caloocan City.

I spent 12 years of my life at an all-girls Catholic school in Grace Park, a mere tricycle ride away from Grand Central. Hence this was not just another fire. I do not speak only for myself; my batchmates would share my nostalgia. The mall’s best years, its first, were when we were in the area.

In the late 1980s, you did not have many malls, so having one practically in your backyard was a treat especially for girls at a time when adolescence was just setting in. I think I was in Grade 6 when the mall opened. And so the good years went on until high school, in the early 1990s.

After our Saturday practices for a group activity, real or imagined, my friends and I would head to Grand Central when its lights were so much brighter and its shops much cleaner.

It was in one of the theaters where we saw Ghost – starring Demi Moore and the late Patrick Swayze – for what must have been a dozen times. In those days, every girl wanted to crop her hair short like Moore’s. There were so many among my schoolmates who did it so that school authorities had to prohibit the hair cut.

We discovered Odd Balls and its sweet-and-spicy sauces. The squid balls went well with gulaman and diced hopia from Baker’s Fair just across the alley.

We ogled girlie things at the Gift Gate branch at the basement. Famous then were Fido Dido, the thin man with a V-shaped face, Kero Kero Keroppi with the oversized eyes, and Geneva Cruz’s Swatch watches – “I like you!”

Also in vogue were the black-and-white Avante Garde cards, with plenty of space for your own words. We gave these to our friends for birthdays, friendship anniversaries, or for no reason at all.

Expressions sold great stationery. During the summer, at a time before Facebook and Twitter and email and SMS, our only means to communicate with friends was the snail mail. We recounted our activities, our summer crushes on the scented paper, stamped and sent through the regular mail.

I remember when I was a sophomore and classes were suspended in midday because of heavy rains. I decided not to ride with my school service and went instead with my friend Jennie, who was being fetched by her parents. First we picked up her brother from his school, Notre Dame of Greater Manila, just adjacent to ours. Then we piled into their car and her Dad decided that we should let the traffic pass and kill time at Grand. I knew I was going to be in trouble for ditching my usual ride home, but I felt too warm and cozy with their family. Those cheeseburgers from McDonald’s never tasted as heavenly.

Grand was also a witness to our first acquaintances with boys. How hard was it to get something from the bookstore and bump into someone to eat pizza with later on? Of course the bumps were pre-arranged, days ahead, through the neighbor’s telephone – there was no other way.

Just before I went to college, my grandmother got me two pairs of sturdy flat shoes from Grand, because she said I would be doing a lot more walking at university, which was not in my backyard anymore.

And then later, when I was pregnant with my first child, it was there where I satisfied my constant craving for Pancit ng Taga Malabon (third floor) and the big and fluffy sylvanas from Joni’s for dessert.

There is no more Joni’s now, and my daughter is turning 18 in two months. My grandmother passed on eight years ago. The boy I enjoyed pizza with is now my ex-husband. Jennie is now living in Ontario, married to a Canadian. Her dad succumbed to a liver disease ten years ago even as her mother and brother still live nearby. I have made new friends but kept up with the same girls I exchanged snail mails and black-and-white cards with.

As I write, Grand Central has been burning for four straight days. Thank God memories are fire-proof.